Hickam Field -- US Air Force Base, middle of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Sunday morning, December 7th, I arose early and after breakfast, I went to the orderly room to type some letters. The orderly room was the headquarters of the squadron, one officer for the commander and the Adjutant, another for the 1st sergeant, the clerk typists (me) and a file clerk. I was now officially not going to radio-gunnery school. I got a small promotion and was now a ‘paper pusher.’ I didn’t enlist to push paper. I was going to fly! Ride in an airplane. Be a hero. Boy, was I dumb.
Shortly before 8 o’clock, I heard some explosions and felt the building shake. This was a large building. Living quarters for a thousand men, and a center mess hall for feeding twelve thousand each meal. Believe me, I had spent a solid month on KP, I knew how many men ate there. I ran outside to see what the commotion was, and saw fighter planes buzzing all around, and what sounded like firecrackers. Then I saw the rising sun emblem and realized they were Japanese. My god, they were trying to scare us with firecrackers like they did the Chinese. Ha!
Then I saw some tracer bullets fly across the field and hit the hospital, a quarter-mile away. And, out of the corner of my eye, I saw four or five guys running around the flag pole suddenly fly apart into pieces like ragdolls. I turned, ran inside to alert the guard. The phone was dead but the field phone rang. “This is Colonel Somebody or other, who am I talking to?”
“Jacobs, Johndean, Private, 16012660.” Boy, was I military. Also dumber than hell. “Private Jacobs, this phone is your post. This is war. Leave your post and you will be shot. Orders will follow.”
Suddenly a bomb blast blew in part of the outside wall of the office. I pulled the staples holding the wire to the baseboard around the walls and took the phone outside into the hall. Now I had two walls between me and the outside. I could still hear the firecrackers overhead and decided it was bullets striking the copper-clad cement roof.
Later, while on Guadalcanal, the only notice of bombs falling was the sound of them whistling through the air. I could tell within a small area just where they would fall. I knew if I should roll out of my cot into a slit trench or go back to sleep. One night I stood up and watched one fall, then heard another one close, and I hit the fox hole. I immediately popped out and… all hell broke loose. I slammed back into the hole and then stuck my head out and, low and behold, there was another string of firecrackers floating down with a paper parachute. Ha! Scared me just as they did the Chinese!
I could still man the phone and see out the doors of the building. I saw a fellow running zig-zag across the parade ground holding a World War I helmet full of beer. Seems the Snake Ranch, the beer hall, had been blown up. A Jap plane was zig-zagging right after him. He must have made it. I saw him a week later, still alive; sober, but alive. He was one of the outcasts or one whose parents paid for him to stay in the Army in Hawaii. There were quite a few of them around. They all got a monthly check, with a bonus to re-up when their enlistment was up.
One of the new men ran in one door and a bomb blast blew him across the hall and out the other door. Lt. Workman, the Adjutant, told a couple of fellows to take him to the hospital. He sure looked dead to me, but they picked him up and ran out. Three or four men ran in and wanted mattresses from the supply room that was in the center of the room. It seems they had broken into the armament room and had a 30 caliber machine gun with bullets out on the parade ground. Well, the Japs let them get all set up with the mattresses for protection and blew men, mattresses, and all away. They dropped daisy cutters on them—anti-personnel bombs that exploded just above the ground and either cut you all up or killed you, usually both.
The First Sergeant of the 72nd Squadron ran by pointing and shouting, “Get out, get out, bombs overhead.” Willie Workman made a dash outside and dove under some burning cars in the parking lot. He got shrapnel in the ass and a Purple Heart. Corporal Jack Reynard rushed out and dove behind the bushes next to the building. Shrapnel took off the top of his head. Purple Heart. Posthumously. He had replaced a hot-shot serial gunner as Charge of Quarters that morning. Later, we did get up three of our B-18 bombers and when they pulled up into formation, the hot-shot shot up the tail of one of our own planes. Claimed he saw a Jap plane out there. No one else did. I don’t remember him after this, maybe they dumped him.
The Squadron Commander rushed in and slid down the wall beside me, real scared looking. “Hell, Captain, wait ‘til our fighters from Wheeler Field get up.”
“Oh haven’t you heard? There is no more Wheeler Field,” he sobbed. My, I did, too!
He didn’t smoke, but I offered him one of my Camels. He took it, and between us, we smoked up two packs in about two hours…
The bombing slowed, and he told me that he relieved me of my post and to get out if I could. So, out I went. Across the parade ground, I saw a guy trying to stick an arm back on and an older fellow trying to stick guts back inside his stomach. On the ramp, our pretty line of airplanes was a shambles. One of the new B-17s that had landed from the States during the raid was broken in half. The huge hangers were all wrecked except one that had hardly any damage. The flag on the pole was shredded. Quite a few bodies and pieces were lying around.
Soon a Colonel came by in the sidecar of a motorcycle with a megaphone shouting the Japs had landed in the mountains wearing cotton khaki clothes. Anyone in CKC’s in one hour would be shot. We all had either CKC’s or civilian clothes on. There was a mad dash to get changed into blue fatigue clothes. Another motorcycle, another Colonel: “Japs have landed on the beach wearing blue coveralls. Anyone in blue in one hour will be shot. More than one GI walked around in his underwear. If some hot-shot had of thought of that, bare naked was the only next move. By evening, guns had been set up all around. There was a theory you had to fire a short burst about every half hour to keep the gun ‘cleared.' Everyone did. Shortly after dark, about five or six Navy planes came in across the ramp flashing their landing lights on and off. Some damn fool cleared his gun, sending tracers near them. Then everyone was shooting at them. I doubt if even one of them made it—looked like a solid wall of fire. I jumped under a barracks to protect myself from falling lead.